Digital Audio Workstations and The Options That Exist

Digital Audio Workstations and The Options That Exist

After spending the time to determine which digital audio workstation is the right fit for you, don't forget to review the countless plugins that you can use to manipulate the audio through EQ, compression, saturation, reverb, delay, etc.

When I first started working in the music industry, back in the day January 10, 1997 to be exact I had no idea what Avid’s Pro Tools was. I remember hearing people complain about how bad it sounded, compared to analog tape, but I didn't even have a clue what they were talking about.

Once you have purchased the digital audio workstation that best suits your needs, you need to invest time in learning how to use it.

In my mind back then, a big studio with a 2-inch analog tape machine and a Neve console were all that was needed to record music.

Twenty-one years later, I now make records in a converted bedroom on a laptop that sound as good as anything I recorded in a big studio "back in the day."

I've mixed songs for movies and albums for major labels on equipment that costs the equivalent of paying for a couple of days of studio time in a big recording studio.

My, how the times have changed.

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) have made recording technology available to anyone with a computer or smartphone. From Apple's GarageBand, which is available on iPhones, iPads and Apple computers, to Avid's Pro Tools First, you can record, edit and mix music for free.

As a friend of mine from college used to say, "Free don't cost nothing!"

Depending on your needs, there are many DAWs to choose from including Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton, Reason, PreSonus Studio One, FL Studio, Cubase, Reaper, etc. All DAWs have strengths and weaknesses, so you should research which one is the best tool for you, before making the decision of which to purchase.

If you plan to use a lot of the features of MIDI, then Logic by Apple would be a digital audio workstation you should strongly consider. Logic is used by countless music producers who want the ability to manipulate MIDI data, in order to easily take advantage of quantization, tempo or key changes or many of the other features that MIDI offers. Logic also offers high-quality built-in software instruments, such as drums, piano and synthesizers. Logic is only available for Mac OS and can be purchased from the App Store for $199.99.

If your needs fall more into recording and/or editing audio, then you should consider Pro Tools by Avid. Pro Tools has been the go-to platform for recording for several years. While there are many DAWs available that all have strengths, Pro Tools is the standard and can be found in countless recording studios around the world. Pro Tools can be purchased for $599 (for the boxed version) or $29.99 per month for the subscription version (downloadable version).

Pro Tools has been the recording medium that I have used for over a decade. I have done countless recording sessions with Pro Tools, and it will continue to be my DAW of choice due to its ease of use and compatibility with many other musicians, artists and studios that I work with.

While I use Pro Tools for recording and mixing records, I also use it for editing the weekly radio broadcast for my church.

I use a stock opening and closing for the program, and each week I simply edit the opening and closing onto the sermon, after which I delete any content that I need to make the program 30 minutes in length, and then I am done. It's very quick and easy to use!

Another thing to consider when choosing a DAW are the countless plugins that you can use to manipulate the audio through EQ, compression, saturation, reverb, delay, etc. There are emulations of classic audio equipment such as Neve, SSL and API EQ's, Fairchild, UREI and Focusrite compressors, and even tape machines. While these plugins are not necessary, they do give you many more options and tools to enhance the audio you are working on.

Companies such as Slate Digital, Universal Audio, Soundtoys, Waves and Valhalla offer high quality plugins that some would consider to be comparable to hardware equipment. These plugins can be purchased individually or in bundles, and some are even available for a monthly subscription fee.

These plugins would be the equivalent of having unlimited racks of high-end hardware gear for a fraction of the cost. For example, in order to purchase a real Fairchild compressor, you would spend approximately $30,000. However, with a Fairchild plugin (prices range from $50 - $300 depending on the company who makes the plugin) you can use as many Fairchild compressors as your computer will run for a much lower price!

If you plan on using your DAW for music creation, you might want to consider purchasing third-party software instruments. Almost any instrument you can imagine is available in software form, so if you really need a hurdy gurdy on a song, you no longer have to be or hire a professional hurdy gurdy player, you can just purchase a software version and play it on your MIDI keyboard.

Once you have purchased the digital audio workstation that best suits your needs, you need to invest time in learning how to use it. There are many tutorials available online, which are great resources for equipping yourself to be efficient and to create high quality work using your DAW. The greatest tools in the world are useless in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to use them. You don't have to be an expert to use your DAW, but taking the time to learn the basics can save you a lot of time and frustration down the road.

Advancements in technology have made it more affordable for people to have access to recording equipment, which gives creative people more opportunities to record and release music.

Whether you use DAWs to record song demos, produce hit records, mix movie soundtracks, or to simply edit your pastor's weekly sermon for a radio station or podcast, you now have access to the same tools that were once only available to the professionals.

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